In my last post, I talked about the value of taking different approaches to playing musical instruments, and trying them out to find the best ones for you. In a way, the tendency to try to find 'one size that fits all' is one of the things that led me to want to research adult music learners. It was the attitude that I'd sometimes come across that "adult learners are... X". One of the first results that came up when I searched online was a quote from a music teacher saying that "adults are notoriously difficult to teach". My own experience suggested that wasn't necessarily the case, but it did start me wondering about whether adults learning did have many common characteristics, or whether they were really quite diverse (my 'work in progress' answer to that, from my research so far, and from teaching increasing numbers of adults, is probably 'both'!).
The PhD is starting to feel even more of a reality now - I've told all my students about it, I've got the dates for registration week in October, and I've got to take a photo to upload for my student card! I'm already thinking about how I'll manage my time and the conflicting demands of PhD, work and life - I often feel that the PhD experience is geared towards the typical full-time student (dare I say a 'one size fits all' approach?), and negotiating my path through it as a part-time student who is also committed to a teaching and playing career seems like it will be a challenge at times.
In the meantime, I'm starting to shift up a gear from 'reading bits and pieces' to actually planning my literature review. I'm excited about delving into research from all sorts of areas - music education, education more generally, adult learning, linguistic methods. My initial dipping into adult learning literature is bringing up issues around what exactly that constitutes - the research I've looked at so far tends to focus on 'basic skills' education or, to a lesser extent, retraining, which is quite a different sort of experience to learning an instrument, although clearly there will be overlaps in the basic issues around 'learning'. But it has got me thinking about where music education sits in all this - there are plenty of debates around how important it should be considered in schools, but what actually is music education for adults? Certainly it's rare, though not impossible, for someone to take up an instrument in later life and become a professional musician - setting aside for now how we define a 'professional musician' because that's a whole other can of worms! - so it's not, generally, 'retraining' for a new career. Is it a hobby, or leisure activity? It does feel somehow different from hobbies where you perhaps attend a term of evening classes, or go along once a week to a club (and I always feel the word 'hobby' has a sense of casual interest, which doesn't quite fit how some adults treat their music - or indeed other non-work activities). Perhaps that's something I need to ask adult learners as part of my research - how do they characterise their music playing/ learning? And perhaps I also need to look into literature around leisure activities?
I do think that music teachers need to take account of those different attitudes - what someone needs from lessons does vary depending on what they want out of them. Some adults seem to start with a clear idea of what they're aiming for, whilst others don't so much, and that's also part of our job, to support them in finding out what that is and as it might change along the way (or maybe never quite finding out exactly, but enjoying the process). Some of my Masters research found adult students being pressured down the exam route by teachers, and maybe that's an example of trying to use the same approach for everyone.
I've also read some discussion this week about how long it should take learners to reach certain stages on an instrument, and I think that's definitely a topic for a future 'one size fits all' post, which seem to be turning into an accidental series. More soon!
Flute player and teacher blogging about playing, learning, teaching and researching music.
The Reliable Musician - a series of blog posts on the skills that make the sort of musician people want to work with!